Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Fandomentals’ Top Shows of 2017

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2017 is reaching an end and hoo boy has it been A Year™. Even more than last year we find ourselves asking, what are the good things that have been on TV that we can unabashedly show our love for? We’re not always in sync with the other lists like these out there, so you may find some shows you love absent—in which case, mention it in the comments so we can check it out!—or find a new show to invest some time in from our list that you hadn’t heard of.

So, without further ado and as chosen by our writers here at The Fandomentals, here is our list of top TV shows of 2017.

Stranger Things

Priscilla: Since we left Hawkins, IN a little more than a year ago, Stranger Things became an award-winning pop culture phenomenon. The highly anticipated second season could easily fail to meet expectations, and indeed there have been a few bumps in the road. Nevertheless, the final product is a solid and compelling story, earning its place as a darling of both critics and audiences.

Instead of simply repeating the successful formula of its first year, Stranger Things 2 brought in new characters, expanded its mythology, and developed elements the audience was already invested in. The second season feels fresh and has its own identity, all without losing sight of what made the show engaging in first place.

The second year gave us some answers, but even more questions. The show managed to expand its mythology while also preserving part of the suspenseful atmosphere that permeated the first season. Despite uncovering new layers of the Upside Down, we feel there’s still a lot we don’t know about it, and the third season is full of possibilities.

Stranger Things addressed some of our complaints from the previous year, like Barb’s fate and the treatment of Eleven, but sadly repeated some of its faults too. Still, the characters and the actors portraying them remain one of the show’s greatest strengths. Characters like Eleven, Will, and Steve got the space they needed to grow, resulting in some of the best arcs of the season. There are unexpected team-ups and emotional moments, and even newcomers like Max or Bob have great moments on screen. Except Billy. Everybody hates Billy.

Despite its flaws, Stranger Things remains a delightful and exciting show. I won’t even tell you to watch it, because I’m sure you already did it, right?

Steven Universe

Antoine: Steven Universe is as famous for its progressive message as it is infamous for its frustrating scheduling. Once more, 2017 was a bumpy ride filled with nerve-wracking, never-ending hiatuses—not the Crewniverse’s fault—which took nothing away from how amazing these episodes were, or how far they took us into the lore, the character development, and the introduction of whole new gems. Not to mention, this year finally brought us to Homeworld!

How we felt when we got more Homeworld mythology.

Whether in Star Wars or Steven Universe, 2017 was the year the traditional Hero’s Journey was deconstructed. Steven’s self-sacrifice, part of his Hero/Martyr/Chosen One Complex, isn’t welcomed as he—or the audience—were taught to expect. It caused many problems and will undoubtedly cause many more, as we’ve already seen with Lapis’ breakdown. Steven looked for his ‘magical destiny’, only to learn he might not be any more special than he already is. Maybe he wasn’t Rose’s secret weapon against Homeworld; maybe he’s just the result of how she learned to love Earth and humanity.

As with many, my highlight was the introduction of new characters known as the Off Colors, and everything they meant. The most powerful moment comes when Steven explains he doesn’t see anything ‘wrong’ with the Off Colors. Steven may not realize it yet, but he was raised by Off Colors—his entire perspective on Gem society comes from the marginalized. It provides insight on who rebels are, whether in fiction or in reality—the outcasts. You don’t always become a rebel by choice; sometimes, this fate is thrust upon you, and is your only means of survival.

Something similar can be said about Peridot and Lapis. Unlike the Crystal Gems, Peridot and Lapis are initially refugees, stranded on Earth, and forced to choose a side. Peridot did. Lapis can’t. Peridot made a choice. Lapis never had the opportunity to. Much like Peridot, Lapis presumably liked her Homeworld, probably because they fitted in, and were privileged. They’re no Pearl, Ruby or Bismuth. They didn’t come out wrong. They were perfect tools of the imperialist machine they served faithfully and loyally, until the machine betrays them, as it does. Peridot came to make peace with that reality by embracing rebellion. Lapis hasn’t yet. It’ll undoubtedly be wonderful to follow up their ‘fight or flight’ responses in the next year, and to see what happens with one of the most complex character of the series.

Bojack Horseman

CJ: Now on its fourth season, Bojack Horseman is probably the most depressing show featuring cute animals that I’ve ever watched. Headed by Will Arnett as Bojack Horseman, and supported by a kickass ensemble, we follow his journey from him facing his ghosts to him literally rebuilding an aspect of his past life. New and old habits haunt all of our characters in Season 4, but especially Bojack’s home life gets rocked when family members (known and unknown) catch up to him. There’s quite a few twists in the saga that stretched throughout the entire season, and actually resulted in a glimmer of hope for Bojack, if not quite a bit of residual mental strife.

One of the highlights of this season was his mother Beatrice’s past. Mental awareness and how it manifests in life is a huge, if not the main theme of this show, and we clearly see how Bojack’s affliction was created throughout the series, i.e via his mother’s abuse and his father’s neglect. But in Beatrice’s case, it’s a revolving door. Her faults were created by her surroundings, and she transmitted them directly to her son in retaliation. And as much as it’s a heartbreaking journey, don’t expect redemption here.

Princess Carolyn’s journey was the most relatable this time around. I root for her more than I do Bojack, and watching someone fitting the pieces together only to throw away the entire puzzle was one of the hardest watches of the season. To her credit, this downward spiral felt more like a round of Jenga that went horribly wrong. One thing was pulled out from under her, and the rest immediately followed. I hope I’m not the only one to sincerely hope that she rebuilds.

Todd’s and Diane/Mr. Peanutbutter’s arcs do admittedly wane, being thrust into the spotlight without Bojack’s involvement. However, Bojack alone does not make the show what it is. While I thought that the Hollywood couple’s path was predictable, it was also a hilarious ride down. As for Todd, his episodes could only be described as hijinks, but after the heart-wrenching events of last season, he deserves to be silly Todd again.

Watch this show in pieces, especially if you are the empathetic type. There’s a lot of truth to swallow.

American Gods

Jorge: What can I say about this great show? It has its flaws despite being one the best series to come out this year. Yet, the small flaws presented are improved upon as the show progresses. Even though the fans of the novel, myself included, may have eternally screamed when certain scenes were altered, moved to another part of the timeline, and certain characters were either changed or omitted, this doesn’t change the fact that the show was an absolute joy to watch. You may be thinking, but wait didn’t he just tell us everything that was wrong with it? Aye I did but notice just how short of a list that really was. The series pros far outweigh it’s cons in this case. From the casts pure talent, the beautiful imagery and cinematography, and the love drawn from the original source.

The real highlight of the series I would have to say is the cast. I could not think of anyone better to play Mr. Wednesday, the elusive All-Father, than Ian McShane. His portrayal of the secret-filled, unflinchingly unwavering God of Norse legend was one of the finest all year in my opinion. Other notable casting includes Pablo Schrieber, who took a minor character in the novel, Mad Sweeney, and turned him into a vulgar, hilarious, and emotional fan favorite…at least one of mine anyway. Even the series star, Ricky Whittle, who was mostly unknown to general audiences at the time (except for The 100 viewers) breathed new life in to the stoic Shadow Moon. Even Emily Browning gave us a murky insight into life after death with her cold presence as Laura Moon.

The show was a beautiful spectacle as well. From an eye pleasing intro to each vignettes, we are treated to an overabundance of color, over gratuitous blood and gore, beautiful sets and costumes, and effects that just scream that this is based on a Neil Gaiman work. Whether you’re a fan of Gaiman, ancient mythology, or weirdly quirky serieses, you should definitely check this show out. It’s a wonder to watch and will have you in the binging mood and hungry for what Mr. Wednesday has in store for Shadow in each episode.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Kylie: Nothing like a good ol’ musical dramedy, right?

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a show that kind of shouldn’t exist. It’s a genre mish-mosh that takes aim at every single storytelling convention commonly associated with how women are penned in media, right down to the titular trope. Ironically, it’s that label that turns off many viewers, along with a seeming pattern in the first few episodes of calling attention to the common story beats but then playing into them (which we know from South Park can become exhausting). So…this rich, independent lawyer really did give up her career to chase some guy?

Still, Season 1 and 2—now available on Netflix—delivered a more than entertaining formula, along with a seeming self-awareness that at the least allows viewers the justification to keep hitting the “next episode” button. Besides, a diverse cast spearheaded by the female Jewish antihero whose romantic opposite is a Filipino man always merits celebration.

However this year in Season 3, the show has become elevated to a new level, and quickly rocketed up as a Fandomental favorite. One could make the argument it’s not as enjoyable as the past two years, but it is telling a meaningful story, and one that was ingrained from the start. Rebecca Bunch is “crazy” by societal standards; she has a personality disorder, and her entire arc from the start has been getting her to a place where she can dig into her mental health and push towards healing. But what does being “crazy” actually mean? What are those stigmatizations and how do they affect our protagonist? Hell, what does the diagnostic process even look like, and how can we offer support and be sensitive to others’ needs?

Nothing is fetishized. Nothing is played for laughs. And absolutely no punches are pulled, even in the case of heavy topics. The writing team consulted with doctors and therapists to deliver as realistic and uplifting a depiction of someone struggling with mental illness as possible, and the results have been beautiful to see unfold.

Watch this show. It is never dull; it is never unaware. You’ll be singing the songs in no time, laughing, crying, and at least in the case of many of us here, healing.

Black Sails

Bo: What’s not to love about Black Sails? It has intense action, one of the largest casts of strong characters in TV history, constantly shifting alliances and motivations making for fascinating political maneuvering, and more bisexual pirates than you could pack onto a man o’war. Black Sails is everything people claim Game of Thrones to be.

Of course this show was one of the best of 2017 and kicked off an incredible year for TV in the best of ways courtesy of a final season worthy of the quality the previous two seasons had established after a rough first season. The fourth had its own rough moments towards the middle of the season to worry about, but weathered the storm and came out better on the other side. I might still have reservations about a certain death, but the events that followed did enough to justify it.

Even better, and most importantly, Black Sails nailed the ending. Really nailed the ending. Nailed it so well I’m still sitting almost a year later wondering whether it was really that good or whether it was the most intense form of wish fulfillment. Maybe it was just both? Black Sails UNburied its gays, made its most popular ships a reality, and gave use a happy ending that defied the expectations of both its genre and plot. More importantly, this happy ending made complete sense with everything preceding it and was well earned as a result.

For all the criticism about a “happy” ending, Black Sails did not just throw sunshine and rainbows on screen without pretext. It’s characters suffered and struggled to earn their happy endings. For some this happiness may be fleeting, but it was well earned and meaningful all the same.

Just…watch this show. Go watch it now. You’ll be happy you did.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Lisa: The Handmaid’s Tale was one of the most decorated and popular new shows of 2017, partly owing to its unintentional relevance to current events. Indeed, the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel had been in the works for some time and was filmed mostly prior to the 2016 American election. However, the election results and the ways the story was modernized combined to make it particularly resonant. Amidst all those references to our current culture, the promise that this new world would become ordinary was chilling.

Current events aside, the show is both fantastic and frightening. It is visually stunning and incredibly creepy, in part because it is such a beautiful-looking dystopia. Director Reed Morano’s vision for the pilot set the tone for the rest of the series and rightfully won her an Emmy. The use of close ups made the whole experience more intimate and allowed us to see every tiny expression crossing Offred’s face.

The scripts contained some harrowing spoken lines as well as a snarky first-person narrative. Elisabeth Moss was lights out in the role of Offred, peaking with a furious diatribe in the finale. The supporting cast was excellent too, particularly Ann Dowd and the chronically underrated Madeline Brewer, who stole every scene she was in. Alexis Bledel showed new depth, turning in a haunting performance that included some of the most disturbing content on TV this year.

The most common critique of the show’s freshman season was its lack of intersectionality, as it addressed mostly straight white women’s issues and squandered opportunities to diversify the narrative. Moira’s experiences as a black lesbian forced into sex work servicing men, for instance, deserved more attention. There is hope on this front, however. Samira Wiley has said Moira’s recovery from her time as a sex worker is a large part of her upcoming arc. Showrunner Bruce Miller has promised to better address race next season.

Finally, the casting of Clea DuVall as Bledel’s onscreen wife suggests queer women and their issues will also get more attention. Praised be. Moss claims the show will only get darker and more intense, and with the creative team aiming to shore up its weaknesses and expand its world, we should be in for an incredible ride when it returns in April.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Michał: I discovered Brooklyn Nine-Nine this year, though I’d been aware of it for a while, through the usual pop cultural osmosis.

What I discovered when I finally saw it for myself exceeded my expectations. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an exceptionally intelligent show, one that mixes serious themes with comedy without missing a beat. It seems purposeful in approaching typical sitcom tropes and dismantling them while being much funnier than the sitcoms that do use them.

The show has a vibrant caste of characters who play off each other in strong and compelling ways. There’s strong friendships, rivalry and some of the more convincing romance I’ve ever seen on TV. This includes friendships between men and women that are treated as something entirely natural, and without a hint of any other interest… so see, writers, it’s not that hard. Take notes.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine also dispels the notion that you can’t both be funny and pay attention to diversity and inclusiveness. It has queer characters, characters of different ethnic backgrounds (one of the queer characters is a black man and the other a latina woman), the main protagonist is Jewish… and yet, the jokes are never about their backgrounds or identities. They may involve them, but they don’t take advantage of them. Like all good comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine knows how to punch upwards, not downwards.

Praise be.

The Good Place

Katie: It’s easy to underappreciate how unusual and boundary-pushing The Good Place can be. It is, in the best way, your standard Mike Schur comedy: the vibrant color palette, the tight-knit cast of misfits, the kindness packed next to the humor. It’s familiar at first glance to any viewer of Parks and Recreation or Brooklyn Nine-Nine. At the start, it seemed like it would be exactly that, as Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) bring together all their quirks and foibles to bond in the “good place” under the watchful eye of Michael (Ted Danson). It’s a weird, but understandable sell: Parks and Rec in heaven.

But from its first episodes, The Good Place distinguished itself as a comedy with ambitions. Rather than settle into the easy patter of hijinks in heaven, Schur and his team regularly poke and prod at their own premise. Through philosophy professor Chidi, The Good Place shows a persistent interest in ethics. What makes a good person? Can a “bad” person choose to become good? It leads to smart, funny jokes (“Who died and put Aristotle in charge of ethics?” / “PLATO.”) But it also demonstrated an early willingness to question the show’s own foundations.

Moving into 2017, The Good Place only did this with more enthusiasm. Beginning with “Michael’s Gambit,” the show didn’t only question its own premise. It upended it. In a delightful storytelling choice, The Good Place executed a beautiful twist I refuse to spoil, managing to simultaneously improve the episodes that came before and open myriad new pathways for philosophical, storytelling, and character exploration.

Season two delivered on that promise in full. It has been full of questions about memory, love, indecision, existentialism, and loss. It also has Kristen Bell sobbing into a plunger at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and Jason Mantzoukas as an artificial rebound boyfriend hiding in a tree. It’s a smart, warm show, brimming with brightness and surrealism. It deserves the third season it just received and beyond.

So what are your top shows? Are there any lesser known shows we should add to our lists or egregious oversights that we need to check out RIGHT NOW? Let us know in the comments!

Here’s hoping 2018 is even better. The universe knows we need good things right about now.

Images Courtesy of NBC, Starz, The CW, Cartoon Network, and Fox

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